July 2005 Archives

Mid Ocean News (27 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Maybe Reagan had it right . . . politics is more show business than it is the people's business

SO it was Mr. Editor, that the House on the Hill went down for the summer on Friday, not so much with a bang as with a whimper (not counting the closing clash of the motion to adjourn).

But all in all, it was anything but the End which late Ronald Reagan would have recommended. The actor turned politician was convinced that politics was a lot like show business. Keep the plot simple, he recommended, start off slow and end with a really Big Finish.

But give the Government their due. They at least tried. Their Man In Charge led the charge when he began the last day’s proceedings by reading not one, not two, not three, but four prepared statements that took him just under an hour to get through. They were clearly designed to impress us all, not so much by their length, although there was that, but by their contents.

For those who do pay attention on the Hill, it was déjà vu all over again. The same format was employed last year when we broke for the summer at the conclusion of Year One of the Reign of William Alexander the Great and Not So Great Scott - depending of course on your point of view, Mr. Editor, although to Renee He is simply to be known as The Man.

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RG Opinion (26 July, 2005)

The smoke over Serpentine Road had barely cleared before the politicians began circling, the Letters to the Editor flowed in and the talk show phones began ringing. Everyone it seemed was uncharacteristically singing from the same hymn sheet calling for a public inquiry into the fire and ensuing catastrophic power outage of July 14th.

Right on cue BELCO’s board announced a committee to investigate the circumstances surrounding the fire; a reasonable and rapid response after a power outage wrought with potentially far reaching implications had gripped the island.

In their defense however, BELCO has an enviable track record of providing reliable – albeit expensive – electricity to Bermuda; non-storm related outages are a rarity, with an uptime of probably over 99%, which isn’t too shabby really.

But if you compare BELCO’s product with that of the Ministry of Education, you get a vastly different story.

That our public schools are in disarray is not news. What was news though, terrible news to be precise, was the recent announcement that our Government schools achieve a 53% graduation rate (or more accurately fail 47% of their students).

To put this into perspective, if BELCO performed at the levels of the Ministry of Education (with a 47% failure rate) we’d be in the dark for 11 hours daily.

So where’s the public inquiry into the chronic intellectual power shortage in our public school system? How can we be up in arms over an unprecedented 48 hour power outage but seem largely ambivalent over this? Why so few Letters to the Editor? Why are the talk shows so quiet? Where’s the Government’s plan to turn this around…immediately?

Almost two weeks ago the Premier did say that it is his Government’s “responsibility to ensure the public interest is always safeguarded and [I] support an investigation." Unfortunately the topic was BELCO, not one of his underperforming Ministries.

Surely education is in the public interest? So by the Premier's own standards we should be investigating the ongoing catastrophe that is the public education system?

One thing’s for sure though. Things are never this quiet when the social impact of the education system hits the headlines. Articles about Bermudianisation, crime, economic empowerment or racial inequities in the workplace inevitably trigger painfully predictable but non-solution oriented hand-wringing and finger-pointing.

If we spent half as much time focusing on the abysmal state of public education – the root of almost every social problem – as we do assigning blame for the issues it manifests, we might make some progress. At some point, hopefully not very far off, we as a community are going to have to stand up and say that enough is enough.

Successive Bermuda governments have spent plenty of time and ink heralding the Bermuda economic miracle, while neglecting to admit that we aren’t equipping the majority of our young people with the skills to participate in it.

“If we build it they will come” is the well known phrase; much like the movie Bermuda could be a Field of Dreams. But right now it isn’t. We built it alright, but without a strong education our children can only dream.

The continuing decline of tourism, coupled with the explosion of the Bermuda (re)insurance market in the 1990’s and again in 2001, has transformed our island into a highly successful and specialized economy reliant on a workforce of the best and the brightest.

We’re taking on the world, and they’re looking to knock us down. We’re not just attracting and competing against the best and the brightest within these 21 square miles, our corporations are competing (and winning) on global scale. Tragically, and despite the political rhetoric, this increasingly excludes Bermudians.

Recently the Deputy Premier displayed an impressively shameless level of political rhetoric, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, on this topic. A practitioner of managing perception but not reality, Dr. Brown predictably heaped praise on primarily himself, but also his colleagues, for their successful implementation of the ultimate vote getter: Bermudianisation.

Only the facts aren’t on his side, as revealed in the Government’s own 2004 Economic Review. This report revealed that jobs held by Bermudians dropped by 1,372 positions from 28,717 in 1999 (the year the PLP was first elected) to 27,235 in 2004, while positions for non-Bermudians increased by 1,500, from 7,480 in 1999 to 8,980 in 2004. That’s a 2,872 job swing against Bermudians in just 5 years.

Notwithstanding Dr. Brown’s well-known penchant for misleading the public, we shouldn’t be surprised. This trend will continue unless and until we demand a stop to the rot in public education. This Government’s obsessive political pandering is completely counterproductive in the face of a failing education system.

Raising expectations, while simultaneously failing half of our people, is an explosive mix. It will take far more than the Government’s vacuous Social Agenda to remedy this situation.

Public education looms large as the potential downfall of Bermuda. Our international companies might be willing to absorb slightly higher taxes and operating costs, or tolerate a growing bureaucracy, but they won’t compromise on the quality of staff they can hire.

Throw our immigration policies into the mix and reality hits. Businesses in need of an educated workforce will look to import more foreign workers for the positions we haven’t prepared ourselves for, or leave. As locals become increasingly excluded from their own economy we’ll see more social unrest, crime and poverty to name just a few problems.

We’ve built it. Let’s make sure our people can come. It’s time for a public inquiry into public education.

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Mid Ocean News (22 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

PLEASE, Mr. Editor, let’s have no suggestions about turning off the power for the House on the Hill on a regular basis but the fact of the matter is that things went pretty well when we had to make up for the loss of Friday on Monday and did what was originally meant to be two day’s work in one.

It did mean that we didn’t get home until after eleven o’clock at night – for those members who stayed until the end and not all do, Mr. Editor – but the day’s work saw the passage of six pieces of legislation and debate on one Opposition motion (which was curtailed again), and this after the usual assortment of Ministerial statements (three of them, all of them on the BelCo blackout), some congrats and obits (the Fire Service and BelCo featured prominently, but for congratulations not condolences), all of which was roundly capped by a skirmish on the motion to adjourn.

I don’t expect that it was any kind of record, but the pace definitely picked up and makes a summer exit before Cup Match a distinct possibility. I couldn’t say the Chamber was electric either, but I can confirm that the air conditioning was working – and that helped.
The first sign of any political heat was generated about mid-day when Health Minister Patrice Minors took us through a Bill which brings an end to the National Drug Commission.

It’s going to be lights out for the NDC as a quasi- independent statutory body in the war against drugs. With the repeal of the National Drug Commission Act, it will become just another non-statutory advisory body within the Department of Health within the Ministry of Health and Social Services. Like the Road Safety Council or the Water Safety Council or the Air Advisory Board or the Trucks Advisory Committee within the Ministry of Transport, explained the Minister, as she sought to re-assure members, in the face of fierce criticism of the move by the Opposition, that the work of the NDC would not be stymied.

We were told the move was part of a holistic approach. That word again, last uttered by the Member Who Could Not Be Named to describe the PLP approach to Bermuda’s housing crisis. Hole-istic is more like it – an approach with holes in it. Minister Minors took offence and thought that we were making light of a serious matter. She explained that in her dictionary holistic meant treating the whole person and not just the symptoms of the disease and that the co-ordination of treatment will be improved through integration into the health system of Bermuda.

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I'm playing catch up after having been doing some traveling for a week or so. The first order of business is to clear the backlog of John Barritt's Views from the Hill that I've been remiss in posting.

Then, with Parliament down, the sun out and vacation looming, it will likely be a quieter August.

But you never know.

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It's no wonder that people hold their politicians in such low regard.

The hand-wringing and predictable finger pointing over the island-wide power outage has resulted in the commissioning of an independent review of the events leading to the massive fire. (In fairness to BELCO, this was probably less in response to public pressure and certainly required by their insurers and board. While independent may be a bit of a generous term, it is a positive step in shedding light on what transpired and preventing a repeat, although I'm not a party to the BELCO bashing of the last week.

Just as bad as those flames, is the hazard created from the methane fumes being emitted from the cabinet office. It's become so bad that they'll be installing their own smoke stack to scrub the emissions.

This type of statement from the Premier just reeks of hypocrisy and insincerity:

Premier Alex Scott said yesterday Government supported the investigation.

"It's our responsibility to ensure the public interest is always safeguarded and support an investigation," he said.

Now that's rich.

This Government, this Premier (and his predecessor) are in no position to pontificate on 'safeguarding' the public interest. But I imagine the Premier knows that. At least he knew that he had no credibility in calling for a truly 'independent' review, because that's precisely what he has refused over Coco Reef and the Berkeley fiasco.

The questions remain unanswered over Berkeley (the completion bond, the cost overruns, the legal battles) yet there has been no 'independent' review.

The Premier might point to Coco Reef where he did commission a review, but a) it's far from independent and b) it was put together to pre-empt Parliamentary questions from the UBP and an imminent debate.

The whole Coco Reef affair reeks, but we won't receive any answers from the appointed committee of high level civil servants; hardly people in a position to deliver the harsh rebuke and objective review needed.

On top of that the whole thing was hastily thrown together after the UBP tabled some Parliamentary questions about Coco Reef. Suddenly, the Premier announced this committee, but when challenged on when they were appointed he responded with a statement about when the decision was made to have a review, not when the committee was appointed or whether it had even met.

But that type of shallow maneuvering to avoid the tough questions has become the trademark of PLP Government's.

And finally, I'd be remiss in not pointing out the absurdity of Attorney General Larry Mussenden's suggestion that the Government enter the power business.

Now that'd be a sight (and site) to behold. I'd be opposed to that idea whichever party was in power, but this crowd? They can't even build a school, let alone a power plant.

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Sadly, Monday has seen everything return to normal. After the excitement, disruption and bickering over the power outage, what happened, whose fault it is and how to prevent it happening again there was one thing that I was hoping power wouldn't return to: Hamilton's traffic lights.

The ride along Front St. this morning (and through Reid St. on Sunday) confirmed what I had observed and experienced post-Fabian; traffic flows much better in 'tawn' with the lights off.

But sadly, at noon, they were back.

At the minimum we should change the law to allow left turns on (most) red lights - as the UK and US allow (albeit a right turn in the US). Hell, very few bikes stop anyway at red lights as it is!

We should also change the lights to flashing yellows on a Sunday and evenings as they do in Halifax Nova Scotia. That prevents people sitting at pointless timed red lights on empty roads; as long as you slow down sufficiently at an intersection - which everyone was doing this weekend with the lights out - there are no problems.

The modified driving behaviour I witnessed this weekend confirms what Phil aka The Limey suggested in his Royal Gazette column about a month and a half ago, in what on the surface might have seemed like an off the wall idea to make the roads more dangerous.

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Mid Ocean News (17 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

TALK was tough last Friday, Mr. Editor, when both sides of the House on the Hill spoke in support of legislation to crackdown on thugs who carry weapons, mostly in gangs. Hard work too, for those members of the House, Mr. Editor, who stuck it out for the eight or so hours it took us to see the Bill through.

The crackdown came in the form of changes to our Criminal Code which was first introduced almost 100 years ago (yes, that’s right, it was originally an Act of the Bermuda Legislature dated 1907), although there have been amendments from time to time down through the years. But this time MPs were being asked to approve a mixed bag of changes, 47 pages worth, ranging from revision of our counterfeiting laws, to the wholesale incorporation of provisions of the UK Theft Act, to the offence of aggravated vehicle taking. The amendments also included that very simple change which will allow jury trials to continue where jurors fall ill or are discharged providing the number of jurors doesn’t dip below ten, in number. But the provisions which pre-occupied members and took front and centre in the debate were those which were aimed at stamping out machete madness.

From the outset, there was broad agreement that something has to be done.

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I couldn't help but smile after catching up on some newspaper reading and coming across an article about our cricket team's qualification for the World Cup. It was great news, and as happens everywhere, the politicians were lining up to hitch their wagons to the euphoria and get some lift from the positive vibes.

Which is why I both smiled and cringed after reading Dale Butler's comments in RG, as quoted at the end of the article:

Sports Minister Dale Butler was equally impressed.

“I’m extremely delighted,” he enthused.

“I’m very happy with the team’s success. Remember my farewell speech at City Hall? I told them that they were not going over there to participate but to qualify for the World Cup and my prophecy came true. Based on the team’s talent, commitment and training I felt they stood a very good chance – and here they are!”

What made me cringe? Well, if you've ever listened to Dale Butler, either in Parliament, at a press event, ribbon cutting or maybe even singing in the shower you might have noticed the same thing.

Dale Butler can't stop talking about himself. Ever.

Look at that quote. Instead of focusing on the cricket team, he's telling people how "I" predicted this, that "I" told them, remember "my" speech, that "my prophecy came true", that "I" felt they stood and good chance, that "I'm" excited etc. etc. Six references to himself in 5 sentences!

The moral of the story? Aren't "I" smart. You should all be impressed with "my" wisdom. "I'm" great.

It's pathological. Deodorant Dale has always come across as a self-absorbed ego-maniac. That quote should confirm beyond all doubt that even when someone else does something great, that it's all because of the great Dale Butler.

A little humility would go a long way.

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Mid Ocean News (15 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

TWO sittings in four days, Mr. Editor, Government sure was in a hurry. To catch a cab? Not really. To catch up? Again, no, not really.

For my money – the usual two cents' worth – the special sitting on Monday was simply to get GPS by the House on the Hill, by the taxi drivers and by the community, and to keep the Opposition and the fuss to a minimum, demonstrating yet again that all's fare in politics.
I mean we all understand that this was the third time around for this Bill but to spring a surprise sitting for its passage? Now that's extraordinary. We in the Opposition were not told there was going to be a sitting on Monday until the Thursday morning, a mere four days before.

Third time lucky then? Luck had nothing to do with it. This was by design. Numbers were bound to be down. Members are part-timers and have other job commitments. A Monday sitting on four days' notice is most unusual. The Government made but one concession: we started at two o'clock in the afternoon rather then the usual 10 a.m. This was no shared ride, Mr. Editor. It was never intended to be.

Only the Minister himself spoke for the Progressive Labour Party Government in support of the Global Positioning System Bill, along with the one backbencher, George Scott, who has an interest in a firm which is intending to supply the product.

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Water water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.

"The summer months are now upon us, and along with the hot, dry weather comes the concern of water usage. If Bermuda's unique water system is to continue to meet the needs of Bermudians, it is critical that our good water conservation habits are maintained and improved,"

Minister of Works, Engineering & Housing, Ashfield De Vent
June 22, 2005

Evidently though there is enough for a Parks Department Water truck to be soaking the flowers on the East Broadway median during my ride home this evening.

Typical Governmental coordination.

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The UN's Very Special Commission of 24 has released their report on their vacation in Bermuda.

What's in the report? Not much. But at least we now have an example of what an Independent Bermuda's six figure UN membership dues will produce.

Maybe I'll comment on it later. Probably not though.

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Well there it is. Dr. Brown, through persistence and more than a little bit of shifty tactical work, managed to shove his beloved but controversial mandatory GPS legislation through.

The way this transpired, after years of delay, can't be seen as a big win for the Transport Minister and the PLP. But it's a win nonetheless.

I must admit to being a little surprised (and disappointed) that after years of energetic resistance, the Taxi Industry seemed to just run out of gas, threats of legal action notwithstanding.

No doubt, the sudden re-tabling, and subsequent accelerated timeframe in debating this bill was both intended and successful at preventing the drivers, and the Opposition, in getting organized.

In addition, by choosing to re-introduce the bill at the peak of the tourist season, Dr. Brown put the drivers in a tough position; they were reluctant to engage in another strike and lose valuable dollars. Now is when they make their money, so at some level I understand the practical realities of a repeat of last year's work stoppage (during Race Week) when there was a sense of inevitability to the bills passage.

It seems they're resorting to Plan B: tying the thing up in the courts. How successful that is remains to be seen.

But, and it's a significant but that should not be overlooked, the Government rammed this through in a rare extra session taking up legislation that was only introduced 7 days earlier.

Traditionally, bills sit on the Order Paper for a minimum of 2 weeks, allowing members time to review the bill and prepare for the debate. This legislation however was only tabled on June 23rd. Then, in really underhanded fashion, very late in the week, the UBP were advised that Government would be holding an extra session, solely to debate GPS, on Monday July 4th.

I'm not sure why the UBP didn't kick up more of a fuss frankly, but the intention of this move was clear. It probably came down to the simple act of counting heads, with the bill eventually passing 14-11. Which is a sqeaker.

By only informing the UBP at the last minute of the extra Monday session taking up legislation less than a week old, the intention was clearly to catch the UBP short - a little bit of insurance. And that insurance policy seemed to pay off, with 3 UBP MPs absent for the vote, allowing a severely short-handed PLP Government to sqeak it out by 3 votes.

But the numbers aren't quite that simple. If all of the UBP's MPs were present the vote would have been even. I think the PLP knew it would be close but assumed 15 would be enough by one. With the extra one being PLP MP George Scott who attempted to vote on a bill where he had a direct and well documented financial interest. That is against procedure and speaks to his lack of ethics.

Mr. Scott, when speaking in the debate a) didn't declare his interest until the Opposition Leader intervened, and b) attempted to vote before the UBP asked for a ruling from the Speaker, who ruled accordingly. Pretty scummy in both cases, but not unexpected.

So the Government was probably confident that 15 members would show up for the vote, enough to beat the UBP with all their members present, but further benefited from the underhanded tactic of adding an extra session, with little notice well within the normal waiting period.

I'm not surprised. It's just another example of the disregard of good practice, established precedent and proper procedure, minor annoyances which seem to hold little significance in our increasingly marginalised Parliament, from a Government which abhors open debate.

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In case you're interested, the Government are having another go at GPS today, in a special session at 2PM.

AM 1230 will have the muffled broadcast.

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Totally off-topic, but of critical importance:

The 2005 Tour de France begins tomorrow, which means that Bermuda politics will take its rightful place behind Lance Armstrong's back wheel.

This is Lance's last tour, and promises to be a great race as he tries to go out on top with an unprecedented 7th consecutive win.

Even better is the news that Bermuda Cablevision recently replaced the Outdoor Network with the Outdoor Living Network (OLN), on digital channel 101. In the nick of time!

For the uninitiated OLN carries excellent live daily coverage of the Tour and a great evening wrap-up as well, in addition to a live audio web feed to chew up your company's bandwidth.

The race begins tomorrow with the individual time trial, at 12:30 our time, and every day (almost) following for 3 weeks of pure heaven.

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Mid Ocean News (01 July 2005)
UBP MP John Barritt's 'View From the Hill'

Premier joins the attack and tries to dismiss the Opposition with spin

TRUST me, Mr. Editor, I am not making this up: but for the second consecutive week there were two pieces of legislation (agreed), one take note motion (no vote required), a short motion to adjourn, and we were done for another day in the House on the Hill. It was déjà vu all over again, as Yogi once famously said – and just to be clear, Mr. Editor, that’s Mr. Yogi Berra of baseball fame, and not the cartoon bear of TV fame.

Now that said, we still weren’t off the Hill, and out of the House, much before nine in the evening. It wasn’t the legislation that detained us. It was the Opposition’s take note motion on anti-corruption legislation in other jurisdictions and the question of whether there was any benefit to enacting similar legislation in Bermuda. That’s where we had some debate. Sort of. You see only three members from the Government benches spoke, and I bet the first two, who did speak, were wishing the third had not. Renee was at it again, Mr. Editor, speaking out after the dream team for this debate of Scott & Scott (a.k.a. the Premier the Man and his Ministerial namesake, Michael) attempted to open and close the defence for the Government.

It was the Opposition Leader Dr. Grant Gibbons who started it all. It was his motion and he spoke first. He had a sample piece of legislation from Jamaica (The Corruption Prevention Act) for members to consider. He described it as “no nonsense legislation” “draconian even” which set some pretty high standards which had to be followed by all public servants in Jamaica.

The Premier, The Number One Scott, in reply saw no need for any such legislation in Bermuda. There was no evidence of any corruption in Bermuda or, as he put it at one stage, “no corruption of any significance”, and again at another stage of his speech “not that rampant”.

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